Nat left behind a mountain of pain after a sudden exit from my flat, my country and from my life.
I will never forget the first time I saw this complicated Thai woman back in December 2009. In an attempt to entertain a new friend, me, Doris introduce me to her at The Riva, Nat’s recently opened bar restaurant in Chiang Mai. “I will introduce you to a Thai Lady” Doris said late the very first evening we met. As a beginner in Thai culture I didn’t really know what the expression “Thai Lady” meant but I was very curious.
We sat and this Thai girl wearing a simple but elegant black top with white trousers walked towards us from the bar. She looked left and right casually as approached showing confidence and control. Smiled and there she was all charm seating in front of us. I couldn’t even blink: today is a good day, I thought.
The following day I asked Nat to take me to get some drinks for the party and we went to a nearby Lotus supermarket. I was glad and surprised to see how comfortable she was shopping with a stranger, smiling and joking as if we were long time friends. I also learned something that day: wine is expensive in Thailand. Four bottles of an unknown brand of dubious quality cost much more than the 2 boxes of beer I bought too.
The party was great. Musicians, artists, all characters living in CM natives from every corner of the globe. Almost everybody played an instrument. I felt some sort of complicity with Nat since neither of us participated actively being just happy observers of great performances.
Next day I promised Doris I would learn to play guitar.
During the following two weeks I had the opportunity to meet many of those expats living in Thailand drinking and eating in many different places and seeing Nat enjoying and working at The Riva in equally hard measures. It was a special time for everybody and it could be felt in the air.
Back in London I resumed my normal life with much more homogeneous friends. I also went back to the last traces of a great relationship with Jana.
At this time I was told she was having an affair with a guy from North Europe. Apparently already tired of him she was hoping he would leave soon back to his country. The only time I saw him he was young, subdued and enchanted and did not seem ready to forget Nat any time soon. He looked like a faithful pet, happy always paying attention to his master. In this case Nat. That would be me some years down the line!
Always very quiet and secretive about her life, one of her best friends had said: she always has someone on the go. Sometimes more than one guy. This could be true or just collateral damage since Nat is so careful and private about her life that even close friends didn’t know her reality. So they guessed.
She is particularly busy in NYE. It’s money making time which is very high up on Nat’s priorities list and she works non-stop. Traditionally in Thailand people celebrate lighting up a hot air paper lantern hand in hand with friends or relatives, make a wish and release it into the night sky. This time I wanted to do it with Nat so I got 3 of them, left them behind the bar and asked her to light up a balloon before midnight. “Sure we will” she agreed busy pouring gin into a large glass.
When the bar was under control we stepped out into the crowds by the street to light up one of the lanterns. We did and the balloon took our wishes away. She went back to the bar so quickly you would think didn’t care much for any wishes. Mine was … ( )
Never mind since Thailand at this point was just a winter holiday for me.
Departure time arrived and Doris offered to take me to the airport the following morning. To my surprise Nat insisted in coming too. Given that during this short winter holiday we did not interact much, I thought she was just polite. I thought she wanted to be nice with one of The Riva clients. She would not wake up given her usual late nights at the bar but no, there she was next morning taking us all to the airport smiley, fresh and happy as usual.
More than surprised I was confused at how friendly she was now. Together with Doris we walked around the shopping mall, had some Japanese food and tried on some cheap sunglasses before heading to the airport nearby. Between the airport gates and the car I said my goodbyes to both of them. Still confused about Nat’s coming to see me leaving, I felt I had to so something more than just smile and in the last hug I took the opportunity to steal a quick kiss from her. Later on I would learn this is a big deal in Thailand and something Nat was not used to at all!
Once again I was back to my life in London where I was to meet another Nat. Natalia.
An Unexpected Nat
Natalia was in breaking up mode and had ended up in England, a place she hated and had no bearing with her lifestyle whatsoever. Love, nevertheless, moves mountains and even very stubborn people too. She met her English boyfriend in sunny South Spain but was now living in grey South of England under cloudy weather and heavy storms. Outside and inside their home too!
One day in London I got a call: Hola, you will not remember me but … Yes, of course I remembered and remember my ex business partners, lover and girlfriend at a dinner party saying: Hey don’t you look at my friend’s butt, ok!
Natalia came to London from Hove in the South one weekend looking for a bit of conversation, distraction and support at a very difficult time.
One weekend lead to another and to regular contacts on the phone between Monday to Friday when she would travel to my flat again. I never suspected this would go any further. Even when she would walk around the flat on a t-shirt and light blue culotte knickers the idea of anything other than a healthy friendship never came to mind. Everything starts with a kiss and with the help of little drink too, one night our friendship moved to a physical level. And really good it was too.
Natalia and I could spent many hours talking, cooking, going to markets or riding on the motorbike which she loves. (I don’t understand how anyone would enjoy riding on the back of a bike going at speed). We went to meet Richard in Hayling Island and tried water skiing. But failed over and over again having a bigger laugh every time. We also went to the posh bars in Chelsea to meet some other friends. “Is your girlfriend?” Ricardo would ask hoping for a new opportunity for himself.
All in all it was a good fun time. But it wasn’t to last.
Intense and Short
Natalia and I came from the same part of the world, spoke the same language and both lived abroad in the UK. We both enjoyed motorbike riding (she owned a low-rider back in South Spain), joking about everything and anything, having sex and getting high every now and then. We had common and similar friends, hers a little more alternative and mine a little too posh. Esther, my ex-business partner, ex-friend and ex-lover was (is still) her best friend and that’s how we knew each other. I don’t know if she ever got to know about this but she might now!
The shadow of the ex (or not) boyfriend she hated so much was luring in her life. She wanted to forget all about him but he was not so sure. I suspect this is the usual script in many relationships heading for the cliff. Perhaps that was my job: to be (the boy)friend that will make her forget the other one. Did not look like that at a time. She was the one taking the steps and her clothes off, she was happy with whatever our relationship was and I was delighted.
We would meet and spend a lot of time together in London or Barcelona. I got to meet her sisters, brother and her lovely mother. A mother who would grow smoking grass in the garden for the older son. That’s a mother! I met most of her friends and even one of her early boyfriends painted my flat. We would walk the dog and her sisters children. All in all a lovely and strong relationship was being built very quickly.
One day in London the phone rang. She was crying and could hardly understand her. I walked up and down outside our studio at the business park nervously. Her words pierced my insides like a long thin needle being pushed into my body very slowly. She was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.
Apparently Natalia was 3 months pregnant as a result of the last sex she had with her ex-boyfriend. We were both destroyed, confused, doubtful. We talked but couldn’t decide anything. I was not too sure about having somebody else’s baby and she wasn’t either but we kept seeing each other for a little longer without any commitments. Eventually she was to have her baby close to the father. Even if they are not together now, common sense prevailed at the time.
Winter came and with it the idea of Asia, hot weather, noodle soup, visiting those expats friends and of course Nat.
Just like the previous years I stayed at Karintip Village where I could work comfortably from the swimming pool drinking watermelon shakes. Thirsty mosquitoes constantly try to interrupt my workflow and succeeded to keep it at to about 2-3 hours a day. It was here where I would sleep with Nat for the first time in a few weeks. And I mean sleep.
Even when some charming people I had met some years ago were no longer there, Chiang Mai was a sociable city. Doris was also in sociable mode and Adi ready to party so we went out often to music events, restaurants and bars.
Yaroslav moved from bar to bar with a netbook translating technical texts into Russian. Joe move from bar to bar looking for venues to play. Sinai was living the night too fast for the Irish boyfriend (so she poured a whole bottle of beer on his head and he was fired).
As usual Nat was very busy with her business, her daughter and a little less with her boyfriend. A tall, bold private jet pilot was now Nat’s companion when he was not moving rich customers from one continent to another. Gentle, relaxed and friendly he seemed too big for such a minute woman. He also seemed someone who knew when to agree and be a gentleman but not the kind of person who would dig into Nat’s personality which was complex but also very, very interesting to me – and still is. I suppose “not getting too personal” is an option in a relationship – and one that perhaps I should learn given the circumstances. I wanted to dislike the guy but I couldn’t. He is just a fine man.
Nat spoke well about him but I saw no excitement. “Something has to happen to finish it” said one time. I made it much easier for her when it was my turn!
He would disappear for months on end and after almost two years the relationship stalled. After closing late at night, Nat would come with us to Zoe and Yellow. I wanted to think because of me but there were no signs. There are never any signs from Nat. Thing is I liked being around her since that day at the Lotus supermarket as a friend. Just talking to her, just looking at her.
So this time “he” was away and I was about to leave for London again too. One night after spending many hours drinking at The Riva I asked Nat to come to my room at the Karintip. I used phrases like, … I enjoy being with you, … “me too” she would reply to my surprise and excitement, … I don’t live here and we have very few opportunities to be together then, … come to the Karintip with me. She thought about it for a little while then Nat said “OK” – or rather K. She likes saying K!
I went to my room to wait for her after closing time. She came lay down next to me and we slept fully dressed. As attractive as she was, I couldn’t touch her. She was a friend and a friend with a boyfriend at that but mainly a friend. Also you hardly have physical contact with Thai women in public since physical exchanges are not in their culture and having someone’s back to you … anyway, it didn’t happen!
The following day everything went back to normal but for me it wasn’t. We were a little more than friends now.
“Any potential relationship would be very difficult Nat” she looked me in the eye and replied “Nothing is impossible”. Of course I heard that before but now it had a completely different meaning: yes, everything is possible. This was an answer to a question I had not asked yet but was on my mind. It is then that ideas started to flow, possibilities of life in Thailand, changing businesses, … many things. Most importantly perhaps she was ready to take any challenges ahead, ready to explore new possibilities. And so was I and I decided I had to make an effort. I could never imagine how hard it would be.
Two days went by and I was back to CM airport on a long flight back to Europe.
Three years after we first met, Nat didn’t know anything about my job, my family or what my native language was. This was not important to me because it was exciting to listen and dive into her life learning about a new culture. She is passionate about her things and life is only as important as you make it to be. If you want to be interesting be interested they say but if you are beautiful there is no need I suppose. (Funnily enough she mixes up these so different verb tenses in English. She says ‘I am interesting’ instead of ‘I am interested’).
Nat has her priorities right and I never felt I was anywhere on that list but near the bottom. I suspect most people around her may feel that way but I also suspect (and hope) we are more important to her than she let us believe.
Cutting the story short
Beginning of 2014 I went back to CM. Work was good and since that Christmas I had not been in Asia went to see what was happening.
Jorge was looking for direction for his art. Sinai worked on her bags and accessories thinking one day she may need to work and generate income for herself. Marco was living his life between the the restaurant, Zoe in Yellow and Facebook. Doris was now secluded in her painting and hardly left Mae Rim. All in all good to share time and share life with them all – for a bit.
This time Nat had more time for me. We would talk much more and spend more time together even if it was always confusing what direction our interaction would take.
I had many watermelon shakes at The Rive. One night, after my insistence and patience, waiting for her many hours and at the Riva and a few drinks one night she came to bed with me – once more. I can hardly remember the physical part but I do know I was delighted and extremely happy. The first sex is never the best as it takes time for couples to learn from each other but I can say she wasn’t much into it rather a little game. “Huuuu I am having sex with Xevi” she was on top of me. I was equally surprised but over the moon.
“Dont expect anything” she kept saying. No, but of course I did. I expected nothing in particular but Nat meant many things to me. A massive challenge due to our different characters, it meant learning about a new culture, it meant … but more about it later.
This was a new chapter and this time Chiang Mai was a little different for me but not any easier. We went to the lake and took pictures of a fish head. We went to her property in Mae Rim and she gave cup cakes to the Burmese family who looks after the property, we went to an art gallery opening with Sinai and Jorge and even to Burma. This took a little more convincing since, like anything that takes her away from her comfort zone and her business. Eventually Nat agreed to drive me to the border to get my passport stamped. I had overstayed in Thailand by a week and I hadn’t even realised. That’s me.
We drove under the sun but just a few miles from the border rain stormed down. Hailstones fell all of a sudden making an incredible noise on the car’s bodywork. It lasted for 10 minutes and cool the air.
Arriving just with enough time to get the paperwork done, buy some fake alcohol on our way back I suggested we stayed in Chiang Rai since it’s a long drive back. No is her immediate answer most of the time but she then thought about it and granted me the pleasure of visiting this lovely village for a night.
On the road next morning we forgot to visit Wat Rong Kun.
Another few weeks in Thailand, she did her thing and I did mine spending time with Jorge, Sinai and Doris. I did not expect anything and I was confused about her relationship with her last man. She didn’t say anything about it but it was easy to understand there was something.
I arrived in Barcelona and started asking her to come and visit. ‘I can organise an invitation letter for you’. Silence. How could she leave her business unattended. Who would take care of it. Nat thinks she owns The Riva when in fact The Riva owns Nat.
Totally unexpected one day she agree for me to organise that letter. She will come to Barcelona!! Two hours later I had found what to do and where to go and had been to the relevant police station in Barcelona. I called her back and asked for a photocopy of her passport since it was the one thing I needed to submit the form. The photocopy didn’t happen even when I asked a couple of times – not too many times because she gets very easily upset. One day, two days, and so on, … Nat couldn’t find a time to get that photocopy done. Too bad I got on my motorbike and started a tour of Europe on my way back to London. I went to see Jose Luis in Arles and Chiara in Italy. I continued to Lago Como and met Adi and Annette in Germany. One last stop in Antwerp and home in London. She then agreed to send her passport copy but I was not in Barcelona any more and could not deal with the letter any more.
I couldn’t do it from London so asked Joan who went to Igualada, the nearest city to his farm house, trying to find out what to do in order to invite a Thai lady to visit Spain. It was difficult for him since proof of property was required, proof of income and other documents I did not know where needed. I told him not to worry, I would ask my sister to organise the letter for Nat. Anna went to the local police station. Everything was ok except the proof of residence was needed. Since their house is in fact owned by my brother-in-laws father she was a little reluctant to ask for any documents to him.
I didn’t want to get my mother involved but Anna would help with any bureaucracy. Mother also had to provide the proof of residence by going to the City Hall, a proof of income and bank statements. The worst experience was to deal with the ignorant, backward, arrogant and patronising policeman dealing with invitation letters. Probably not a regular request at my home town the officer comfortably sitting at the same chair he’s been sitting for decades warned my mother she would be totally responsible for Nat whilst visiting Spain and could even go to prison is she fail to return to Thailand.
After a couple of weeks we managed to get the letter on the post with Nat’s address on it.
Meanwhile back in London thinking about Nat constantly were really, really hard. Long Skype calls confirmed I wanted to be with her. On one of these calls I decided to play guitar to her. Yes I had learn a little as promised to Doris, and Radiohead’s ‘I am a Creep’ had a lot of message on it. ‘Can you stop making noise and listen?’ was her reaction. Well, what can you do: stop and listen.
We ended up talking daily and I wanted to go back badly but I decided not to. My niece wanted to go to London the first week of September and my sister would rather have me there too. Many time I checked flight tickets back to Bangkok but it was just too complicated.
I was a little upset when my niece decided to cancel her trip to London after all. Aghhh! Kids! Immediately after I boarded my flight to my love.